Friday, August 31, 2012

Outdoor Media Landscapes: Tokyo

Sensō-ji, Asakusa

A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Tokyo ... getting there has been an ambition of mine for a long time, and it was a real thrill to finally make it.

To mark the occasion, here's a little photo essay devoted to Tokyo's outdoor media landscape. Since this is a blog on cities and citizenship, I'm basically dressing up some holiday snaps with a few observations on some of the forms of public address that are jossling for space and attention in the city.


The density of text and image on the surfaces of the city is one of the many things that is striking about (parts of) this city ... not a very original observation, I know, but there you go! There's just so much commercial communication. But because I can't read Japanese, I experienced most of it as a brilliant jumble of colour and light (and movement and sound in some cases). The density is exciting, even if its purpose isn't. Could we imagine this kind of media infrastructure being re-purposed?

Shinjuku at dusk


This video above gives a bit of a sense of the soundscape that goes with the eye candy in Shibuya ... intense!

Train Carriage Advertising

While the advertising and shop signage seems to crowd out almost everything else, it's a city that also rewards you for paying attention to some of the nooks and crannies in between the bright lights and colours. Some of the urban infrastructure like street signs and drain covers were beautiful to look at too...

Street sign on the famous Ginza St, one of the main shopping strips of the city, which was off-limits to cars on this particular Saturday and lined with furniture and stalls...

This ornate drain cover was in Shimokitazawa....

There were also a few spaces set aside for what appeared to be community notices, and lots of maps ... an essential bit of media infrastructure given the address system in use in the city, even in these days of mobile internet and Google maps.

Here below are some demonstrators trying to make themselves seen and heard in Harajuku ... they had a large and captive audience, but the crowds seemed to have other things on their mind (ie shopping!!). Sadly I have no idea what they were demonstrating about ... nuclear power, the need to repent and get with God, who knows?! Mass protests must have to generate a lot of colour and noise to get any attention...

Of course, I was on the look out for any signs of graffiti and street art too. What I found seemed to be concentrated in Shibuya and around Shinjuku station. Stickers seemed to be particularly well-suited to the context here ... there was hardly any space left for anything larger, and not many times of the day/night when you might have a place to yourself long enough to hang around painting. The sticker artists typically made good use of space below eye level, which was less crowded because it is of less value to advertisers. In fact, paying attention to the graffiti kind of drew my eye away from all the advertising and other media, and gave me a different perspective on the landscape.

One of the ubiquitous vending machines being used as a platform for various unauthorised media, Shibuya

I love this one in so many ways ... one of a series of "I hate nuclear rain" stickers I saw by the same artist throughout the city.

Melbourne, represent! :-) It was a nice surprise to see some familiar names ... stickers from Reka, Meggs, and Phibs of  Everfresh crew on this pole, among others.
Shop shutter, Asakusa

Finally, there was a whole genre of plastic food art on display outside restaurants that warrants a mention...

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OK, that's probably enough! Back to our regular program with the next post...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Place-Based Income Management in Australia: from the outback to the 'burbs

"This is our Hurricane Katrina," declared Australian Prime Minister John Howard in launching the Northern Territory Emergency Response back in 2007. The NTER, or "the Intervention" as it has come to be known, was an extraordinary set of measures implemented by the Howard Government in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, (notionally) in response to a report into protection from child abuse in the Northern Territory called The Little Children Are Sacred.

Howard's analogy with Katrina was illuminating. I think he meant it to suggest that Australia ought to be shamed by the extent of Aboriginal disadvantage and abuse revealed in the report, just as the United States was shamed by the levels of entrenched racialised disadvantage revealed by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But the analogy goes further. As with Katrina, the situation in the Northern Territory did indeed demand a response. But the question was: what kind of response? And of course, the answer to that question is shaped by competing understandings of the nature of the problem to be solved.

As folks like Naomi Klein, Jamie Peck, and Kevin Fox Gotham have shown, the disaster that unfolded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's storm surge has been compounded by a surge of neoliberalisation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast of hurricane-like proportions.

In Australia, something similar is happening through the Intervention.

At the time, the Howard Government made a distinction between ideology and what it called 'practical action' to address Aboriginal disadvantage. When Howard was asked on ABC TV's Lateline program whether the Intervention was a blow against self-determination, he replied:
Well, some may see it that way, but is that more important than fixing the problem? I mean, see this has been the problem with so many of the approaches in the past to Indigenous affairs, that doctrines and notions have been given greater prominence than outcomes and solutions.
So convinced of this was Howard that he was even prepared to ignore a significant part of the very first recommendations of the Little Children Are Sacred report which kicked off the whole affair. That recommendation stated:
That Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments, and both governments immediately establish a collaborative partnership, with a Memorandum of Understanding to specifically address the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse. It is critical that both governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.
A range of NTER measures are worthy of critical scutiny ... but right now I want to focus on one of the key measures: income management.

Place-based Income Management

One of the most contentious elements of the Intervention has been the introduction of income management for social security recipients. 50% of the welfare payments in designated Northern Territory Communities were quarantined, so that they could only be spent on certain goods in certain shops.

Map of Aboriginal Land and Community Living Areas subject to the Intervention measures, from Yu Report 2008

The initial application of income management to welfare recipients in designated Aboriginal communities by the Howard Government required a suspension of the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is legally permissible for 'special measures' which are for the benefit of the targeted group. Of course, the notion that income management constituted a special measure which was for the benefit of Aboriginal people was vigorously contested.

The Labor Party supported the NTER legislation in Parliament in 2005, and continued to support the Intervention when elected in 2007, albeit in modified form. It commissioned a review of the measures associated with the Intervention in 2008. After extensive research and consultation, that review noted that while some welfare recipients identified some benefits of income management, the compulsory imposition of income management on all Aboriginal people in identified communities was widely opposed as both punitive and discriminatory. It recommended that income management become voluntary, unless triggered by specific circumstances (such as lack of school attendance or an identified risk of child abuse).

Labor rejected the recommendation that income management be voluntary, keeping it compulsory. In doing so, it continued the punitive nature of Howard's initial response. To address the concern that compulsory income management associated with the Intervention was discriminatory, Labor decided to impose income management on non-indigenous welfare recipients as well.


So, from July this year, under the new income management is being trialled in five suburban locations around the country: Bankstown (NSW), Logan and Rockhampton (Qld), Playford (SA), and Greater Shepparton (Vic). Compulsory income management has also been in operation in Perth and the Kimberley (WA) since 2008, specifically for those referred by child-protection authorities (as of 29 May this year, there were 158 people in Perth and 74 in the Kimberley on income management, as reported to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee).

In these new areas, there are three ways you can end up on income management: voluntarily; through referral by a child-support/protection agency; by being designated as 'vulnerable' by a Centrelink social worker.

A poster at Kmart notifying customers that the BasicsCard, used by those social security recipients on income management, can be used for certain purchases. These posters are now popping up in Sydney at various locations in Bankstown and beyond (this picture was taken at Ashfield Mall).